ATTEMPTS by councillors to stop the number of ‘to let’ boards left outside occupied properties have been branded impractical.

It was said that the signs are unsightly and can lead to a rise in crime, prompting an investigation into whether officials should more tightly regulate where and when lettings boards can be erected.

But the proposals, raised at yesterday’s full city council meeting, have been questioned by estate agents, who said tighter rules may be difficult to police.

Mark Crampton Smith, of College and County, said: “Our firm takes a very hard line on this issue and there is already statuatory regulation in place.”

The company, he said, does not place boards on streets with through-traffic and did not put them out during university term holidays.

Mr Crampton Smith added: “A code would help but I can forsee problems with how this would be policed.

“I would certainly feel uncomfortable about grassing up one of my competitors.

“And boards which have been in place for too long do a disservice to an agent anyway.

“In a city like Oxford it is important to have a good relationship with residents.”

Headington councillor Ruth Wilkinson, who proposed Monday’s motion, said: “There is evidence that in areas where many of these signs stay up longer than they should do, levels of crime increase.”

Council leader Bob Price said officers had been asked to submit a report on the issue before the end of the year, and that discussions had already begun with property agents.

He said: “There is a general feeling across the whole council that something needs to be done about this.

“We have a large renting sector in Oxford and when some signs are left up for long periods of time it becomes unsightly.

“Our report will look at the experience of other local authorities who have introduced their own codes of practice and move away from the standard planning permissions.”

Enforcement of the code would fall largely to estate agents, Mr Price said.

Advertisements for lettings agencies are currently subject to planning laws set out by the Government. The city council decides whether to permit advertisements in urban areas, according to planning policy.

An estate agent may only display one lettings board per premises and must remove it within 14 days of selling or letting the property, but in practice the rule is difficult to enforce. Officers must issue notices to agents after investigation, but councillors have criticised this as time-consuming.

Divinity Road Area Residents’ Association chairman Martin Stott said: “At this time of the year it can be particularly problematic, because you’ve got a lot of students moving in and out.

“Obviously lettings agents are keen to flog their wares but it does tend to advertise the fact that some houses are empty for long periods of time.”

Oxford City Council on Monday said it will consider adopting a system similar to that of Leeds City Council.

The Government granted it powers to enforce a code, which agents sign up to, with fines of thousands of pounds if firms fail to follow the standards.

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